Free Exhibit Resources

Exhibit Resources from POW!

The Great Big Exhibit Resource List

A constantly updated compendium of resources for museum design and exhibit fabrication (including websites and contact information.)
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Donor Recognition Examples

This is a PDF of examples of Donor Walls and other recognition devices in museums that were featured in an ExhibiTricks blog post. It's a BIG file so be patient as it loads.
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Cheap Exhibit Ideas from the ASTC Exhibit Cheapbooks

Here are a few examples of the types of simple, inexpensive exhibit ideas to be found in each of the three volumes of The Exhibit Cheapbooks which I originated and edited.
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POW! in The New York Times

A nice review of a children's interactive art exhibition I created for the Nassau County Museum of Art.
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Downloadable Exhibit Articles by Paul Orselli

"Producing Great Exhibits on a (Not So Great) Budget"

My article from the January/February 2014 issue of ASTC's Dimensions magazine. Some simple, inexpensive ways to add to your exhibits program.
>> download the PDF now

"Green Design Nuts and Bolts"

An article jam-packed with resources and techniques to help you expand your green exhibit design toolkit.
>> download the PDF now

"Million Dollar Pencils and Duct Tape: Some Thoughts on Prototyping"

Concrete examples and tips about how to move through each phase of the exhibit prototyping process.
>> download the PDF now

"Good Things Come In Small Packages" (Small Museums Article)

Lessons learned from a quarter century of working with a variety of different types and sizes of museums.
>> download the PDF now

"Do You Really Need a 3D Printer, and Other Essential Questions You Need to Ask about a Museum’s Makerspace"

5 questions to consider when creating (or updating!) a Makerspace or design-based learning environment at your museum.
>> download the PDF now

ExhibiTricks blog

  • Creative Collisions: Impressions of the 2018 Ecsite Conference

    A record-breaking 1,182 professionals from 58 countries gathered in Geneva, Switzerland recently for the 29th edition of the Ecsite Conference. Well, that's your headline.  But the real nitty-gritty of this year's gathering of the European network of science centers and museums was exemplified by the conference theme of "Creative Collisions."

    I encountered many creative collisions at my first Ecsite Conference, and here are some of my impressions of the three days I spent there:

    Thursday started well with a "Newcomers Breakfast" event.  Small tables allowed for interaction between groups of "newbie" conference attendees. Each table also included members of the Conference Planning Committee or more "seasoned" attendees to provide tips to get the maximum benefit out of the Ecsite gathering.  

    The "official" start of the day began with a (mostly boring!) Opening Ceremony. Honestly, all museum conferences would do well to trim the shopworn notion of an opening event by 1/3 or 1/2, since it usually consists of an endless stream of officials offering a canned welcome speech extolling the virtues of either the host city/region or the great impact museums have on society. We all know this -- please start the conference!  (Each day has a closing evening event as well, but, to be frank, most of this year's Ecsite evening events were fairly lackluster so I won't describe them here.)

    Then the "Business Bistro" (what is normally called the exhibit hall or similar in the U.S.) opened to conference attendees.  At Ecsite the exhibition hall is a true "bistro" combined with coffee break stations and regularly scheduled opportunities to socialize and meet and network (Creative Collisions!) I was surprised at the good number of vendors from outside the European Union, including a booth from the Museum of Science in Boston advertising the "Science of Pixar" exhibition. There were also numerous coffee breaks and dessert breaks after lunch held at stations in different parts of the Business Bistro, which added to the sociable feeling evident throughout the entire Ecsite Conference. The Bistro was a natural spot for conversations and "creative collisions." Well done!

    Bistro Beast!

    The first session I attended was called "Challenging our brains to come up with new ideas." Each panelist shared a short presentation about their own creative process. It was interesting to see the different approaches each panelist used to inform their own creative practice.

    On each day there was a communal lunch break that was included in the conference registration. Attendees sat at shared tables and ate and chatted together.  This is very different from other museum conferences I have attended, where participants usually scatter in a hundred different directions during meal breaks. I think more North American conferences should adopt this shared mealtime (and networking!) practice.

    My last session on Thursday was an off-site tour of CERN, the massive scientific complex a short bus ride away from the center of Geneva.  We received a wonderful tour from a volunteer guide, Jose originally from Portugal, who is an engineer with the ATLAS project. Jose was enthusiastic and really knew his stuff! Our tour lasted for several hours, and we visited four different spots --- two areas more akin to museums/visitor centers, but also two areas with "real" stuff --- the control room for the ATLAS project, and the facility where they test the many, many superconducting magnet assemblies inside the Large Hadron Collider (LHC).  As one of my Facebook friends said, commenting on pictures of the tour, "It looks like nerd nirvana!"

    CERN Visitor Center

    Friday started out for me with a session called, "Small and big sins of science communication." This was a fun session filled with audience participation.  As we entered the session room we noticed a long yellow line (made of Post-It notes!) dividing the space in half.  The format allowed one person to "confess" something that they or their museum had done, and then session participants could stand on the "Yes, I have done that" or "No, not me" side of the room, responding to the original confession.  It was agreed that whatever was shared inside the workshop room would be kept in confidence, so attendees shared some difficult and emotional things. I liked the session very much, and the fun format really lets you see in a strong visual way the shared concerns that all museum professionals have.

    Friday's keynote talk by James Beacham, a physicist at CERN, was AMAZING! And a truly creative collision -- perhaps one of the best conference keynotes I've ever seen.  In addition to sharing thoughts about his scientific work ("look where nobody else is looking") James also talked about the interaction of science and society ("what are our REAL priorities?")  Rather than trying to summarize the talk, let me point you to the YouTube recording that Ecsite has provided.  (I wish more museum conferences did this!)

    James Beacham at Ecsite 2018

    Everyone was energized and excited after James Beacham's presentation as we moved to the late morning sessions.  I participated in a two-part session on either side of the communal lunch break, "The exponential potential of narrative."  In Part One, speakers shared concrete examples of the power of narrative in their work.  One of my favorites was the unlikely use of a video production using Santa Claus, Princess Elsa (from Disney's Frozen) and Jon Snow (from Game of Thrones) to share concerns about climate change!  In Part Two, we divided into small groups (one of which I facilitated) to develop narratives on a specific topic.  It was great fun, and a great format.  My biggest takeaway was that narrative can be part of the content, design, and even the physical environment in museums.

    Facilitating at the Narrative Workshop

    Friday finished with a "Business Bistro Happy Hour" where each vendor's booth served drinks and snacks (usually from the exhibitor's home region or country --- so Franconian whiskey from Germany or Cheetos from the USA!) During an event like this, it is important to remember that many small drinks = several large drinks.  I left the event very happy, and I imagine the number of signed contracts increases during this particular event as well!

    Saturday provided a strong finish to Ecsite 2018, with my first session called "Designing tinkering activities" that happened in the Conference's Maker Space.  It was fun to tinker, tape, and solder in a session of course, but my real takeaway was that the Ecsite 2018 Conference had both a dedicated Maker Space (filled with materials and volunteer staff for both drop-in and scheduled sessions) as well as a "GameLab" (a volunteer-staffed space filled with both digital and analogue gaming/game materials, also for drop-in or scheduled sessions.)  I saw several folks from ASTC in Geneva, so I hope they were taking notes about the possibility of having similar spaces at the ASTC Conference.

    The Saturday keynote speakers had a difficult task, given the success of James Beacham's Friday talk, but the endlessly charming Enders sisters (Giulia, the author, and Jill, the illustrator) creators of the worldwide bestselling book "Gut: The Inside Story of Our Body's Most Underrated Organ" were completely up to the task!  Appropriate for the "Creative Collisions" conference theme, Jill and Giulia gave their talk on stage together and spoke about their shared creative process -- both good and bad.  At all times, their love for each other as siblings as well as creative partners shone through.  Plus they were funny!  A definite A+ for this talk, which Ecsite has also kindly provided on YouTube.

    Giulia and Jill Enders at Ecsite 2018

    Saturday finished in a blur with a trip to the "Grand Bazaar" session, a series of hands-on opportunities at different tables with different presenters in a large room where conference attendees could wander at will.  The session and activities were great, and what a pleasure (and small world!) to see Peeranut Kanhadilok from the National Science Museum in Thailand again, after meeting her a few years ago at an ASTC Conference.

    Peeranut demonstration traditional Thai sound toys

    The session I attended in the very last slot of the conference was called "Delicious Science"!  Each presenter discussed food-related programming at their museums, and then each presenter made some food or presented a food experiment that workshop participants could sample. The session was well-attended, perhaps because of the tasty topic, but also because the last day of the Ecsite was a FULL day, not a HALF day, as in most North American conferences. I'm sure this cut down on people leaving early on the day before -- definitely something North American museum conference planners should consider.

    I enjoyed all the "creative collisions" during my first Ecsite Conference very much.  I'm sure it won't be my last!

    Don't miss out on any ExhibiTricks posts! It's easy to get updates via email or your favorite news reader. Just click the "Sign up for Free ExhibiTricks Blog Updates" link on the upper right side of the blog.

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  • Design Inspiration: Origami Organelles!

    "Origami Organelles" seems like an oxymoron, but company founders Dominic and Melanie Delaney thought otherwise.

    The two former research scientists combined their love of science with the ancient paper art of origami to create a fun way to help people better understand science concepts. 

    After clicking over to the Origami Organelles website, you can purchase and download printable files which you can then cut out and assemble to better understand the structure and functions of everything from teeth to eyeballs to alcohol molecules (images of some of the finished models are pictured in this post.)

    There's something nice about this tactile, making aspect of learning science that I'm sure helps Origami Organelle users really internalize the science concepts featured in the paper models.

    Once you pay for a model (or a discounted bundle of models) you can print out as many as you want, so even a cash-strapped classroom teacher or museum educator can find some great inexpensive additions to a science (or maker!) program.

    Check out the Origami Organelle website or Facebook page for more info.

    Water Cycle Paper Model from Origami Organelles

    Don't miss out on any ExhibiTricks posts! It's easy to get updates via email or your favorite news reader. Just click the "Sign up for Free ExhibiTricks Blog Updates" link on the upper right side of the blog.

    P.S. If you receive ExhibiTricks via email (or Facebook or LinkedIn) you will need to click HERE to go to the main ExhibiTricks page to make comments or view multimedia features (like videos!)
  • Ask the Exhibit Doctor: Cool Museum Timelines?

    I've been receiving lots of questions, and doing lots of thinking recently, about the "best" ways to create interesting timelines inside museum exhibitions.

    Personally, I'd really like to get past the flat horizontal timeline examples that look like sliced-up encyclopedia pages.

    Here are a couple examples (below and at the top of this post) that struck me recently:

    Knoll Corporate Headquarters  < >
    Nice use of dimensionality and graphical text in the Knoll Corporate Headquarters.

    Multiple viewing angles for FitNation project  < >
    A multi-dimensional piece for the FitNation project by ABRUZZO BODZIAK Architects in collaboration with Pentagram.

    A strong geometric/photographic way to break down the history of the Earth at California Academy of Sciences.

    So with the help of you, dear ExhibiTricks readers, I'd like to assemble a compendium of your most interesting and innovative ways of creating timelines inside exhibitions, akin to the Donor Recognition posts and documents I crowdsourced previously.

    Please email me images and descriptions of projects you've been involved in and I'll create a (fully credited!) compendium post and a free downloadable PDF of (timely? timeless?) timeline designs!

    Don't miss out on any ExhibiTricks posts! It's easy to get updates via email or your favorite news reader. Just click the "Sign up for Free ExhibiTricks Blog Updates" link on the upper right side of the blog.

    P.S. If you receive ExhibiTricks via email (or Facebook or LinkedIn) you will need to click HERE to go to the main ExhibiTricks page to make comments or view multimedia features (like videos!)
  • Open Source Play -- Impressions of the 2018 InterActivity Conference

    InterActivity, the annual meeting of Children's Museum professionals from around the world, was held recently in Raleigh NC.  The Association of Children's Museums (ACM) did a great job with the local host, Marbles Kids Museum, of bringing forward the conference theme of "Open Source Play."  I especially liked this theme because it reinforced the notion of "sharing" so common in the museum industry.

    Here are some of my impressions of this year's InterActivity Conference:

    Tuesday, the traditional "Pre-Conference" day,  started out strong with a great Study Tour of the outdoor areas of the Museum of Life + Science in Durham.  We spent most of our time in the multi-acre natural playscape called "Hideaway Woods." 

    Treehouses and Bridges in "Hideaway Woods"

    Staff member Tim Darr shared insights about the construction and operation of the treehouses, suspended walkways, and other completely charming outdoor exhibits. The outdoor areas limited content and instead gave people an opportunity to carefully observe and experience Nature with their bodies and their senses. Well worth a visit if you find yourself in Durham!

    Early Childhood area. Note "little" and "big" entrances.

    Tuesday evening the Inaugural ACM Awards Dinner honored Jeri Robinson of the Boston Children's Museum, a true museum shero and pioneer as the 2018 Champion of the Field awardee.  Jeri reflected on her 45 (!) year career in Boston, and reminded all the InterActivity attendees of the Power of Play as well as challenging every museum to “get outside of its own doors and get to know its community.”

    Jeri Robinson (center) pictured with colleagues from Boston Children's Museum
    Wednesday morning started with a keynote conversation from Jim Whitehurst, the CEO of Red Hat, a leading open source technology company located in Raleigh. Mr. Whitehurst shared important examples drawn from his tenure at Red Hat and his book, "The Open Organization" that emphasized that "real collaboration comes from communities that share.”

    Wednesday morning sessions, "Getting the Building You Need, Want, and Can Afford" and "DIY Exhibit Design for Tight Budgets" both focused on the importance of sharing information with, and finding important resources in, local communities. One of the ideas that stuck with me from presenter Joe Cox in the Building session was the question, "Do you really need a new building, or do you want space (in an existing building) to serve the community NOW (not in 10 years)?" I also liked three important takeaways from the DIY Exhibits session: 1) Do your own concept drawings
    2) PROTOTYPE! 3) Loop the Action.

    Wednesday concluded with a series of "Small Talks" primarily from representatives from Raleigh-area companies. I especially liked Anjana Mohanty's talk about specialty fabric producer Spoonflower and how they allow anyone to participate in the creative process AND the creative marketplace through their open source Spoonflower Shop.

    On Thursday morning, there were three simultaneous "Birds of a Feather" sessions for Small, Medium, and Large museums to share their experiences. InterActivity attendees were welcome to attend any of the sessions based on their own interests and their own institutional demographics. I thought this was a really interesting conference format and I appreciated the range of perspectives I encountered in the "Small Museums" section I attended.

    Each presenter chose three words that represented their museum and then gave a pictorial PowerPoint presentation that illustrated how those words reflected that particular museums engagement with their local communities. I liked that one of the words that Felipe Pena from the Children's Museum of Brownsville chose was "¡Fiesta!" I also admired how Kathy Parham, of The Children's Playhouse, partnered with a local coffee company to provide free coffee and tea to parents. When asked about whether providing warm beverages might discourage adults from interacting with their kids inside the museum, Kathy replied that she was more concerned about the parents' smartphones than mugs of coffee!

    p.p1 {margin: 0.0px 0.0px 0.0px 0.0px; font: 12.0px Helvetica} I rounded out my Thursday conference sessions with "Kindness: An Approach to Professional Learning" and "Shark Tank" !

    The Kindness session was led by an intrepid crew from the Children's Museum of Pittsburgh. The folks in Pittsburgh are currently engaged in a museum-wide professional learning initiative to use an evidence-based learning framework to support children and families' engagement in kindness as a learning process. That's quite a mouthful, but, in short, groups of session participants were asked to consider ways that kindness could be integrated into museum experiences for visitors, as well as self-care regimens for staff. The folks from Pittsburgh shared a prototype activity where floor staff would "catch" visitors being kind and give them a "kindness sticker."

    The "Shark Tank" session was a super fun evocation of the popular television show. First two presenters as "exhibit developers" made pitches for either a mechanical or a digital component to the "Sharks" representing the museum clients.  Then session participants divided into small group teams to develop their own mechanical, digital, or "hybrid" exhibit pitches to pitch to the Sharks --- with the promise of a prize for the winning team.  In a "surprise" twist, the museum client announced that, unfortunately, that particular exhibit component was "value engineered" out of the project budget so no team could be awarded a prize!  Hats off to the presenters for their fun and thoughtful use of costumes, props, videos, and sound effects. Well done!

    The Museum Client "Sharks"
    Thursday night ended with the traditional Museum Party!  The folks from Marbles did a great job with plenty of food, drinks, dancing, adult games, and FUN!

    Friday, the final day of InterActivity 2018, brought a great morning session on "Connecting Families to Complex Content in Museums." I appreciated that the presenting institutions represented a History Museum (St. Louis), an Art Museum (Denver), and a large Museum Center (Cincinnati) featuring a Children's Museum section.  There were so many great examples of programs and actionable tips from a variety of perspectives that I may have to create a separate blog post about just this session!

    The Conference closed with the presentation of the ACM Great Friend to Kids Award ceremony. This year's award went to the Center on the Developing Child at Harvard University.  Chief Knowledge Officer Al Race gave an inspiring (and interactive!) talk about the Center's work and its implications for Children's Museums.  The entire audience joined in a karaoke version of "Brain Buildin' " set to Tom Petty's song "Free Fallin'"!

    With such a great InterActivity 2018 conference behind us, I'm really looking forward to InterActivity 2019 in Denver.  See you there?

    Don't miss out on any ExhibiTricks posts! It's easy to get updates via email or your favorite news reader. Just click the "Sign up for Free ExhibiTricks Blog Updates" link on the upper right side of the blog.

    P.S. If you receive ExhibiTricks via email (or Facebook or LinkedIn) you will need to click HERE to go to the main ExhibiTricks page to make comments or view multimedia features (like videos!)
  • The "Key" to a Memorable Visit?

    I recently had the opportunity to visit Gulliver's Gate, an attraction located near Time's Square in Manhattan.  As the literary name suggests, Gulliver's Gate is composed of a series of scale models of miniature cityscapes that you can walk around and look at.

    I very much enjoyed admiring the art and craft involved in creating all of the Lilliputian landscapes, like the world's largest scale airport model (shown below) with planes that taxi, takeoff, and return to their gates.

    But perhaps the thing I liked best about my tour of Gulliver's Gate was ... THE KEY!

    At the beginning of your visit you receive a hefty metal key on a lanyard you can hang around your neck.

    As you walk around the miniaturized metropolises, the key unlocks little "bonus" interactions like making a helicopter take off or activating a cable car between snowy mountains.

    There was something incredibly fun about finding the special key boxes and then activating the little "Easter Eggs" inside the displays.  It also provided a great way to get overexcited children (and adults!) to slow down and observe a little more carefully.

    The GG Keys brought back happy memories of my childhood in Detroit and "Zoo Keys."  When my family and I would visit the Detroit Zoo there were metal boxes scattered around the zoo painted to resemble large books.  Inside each "book" was a rudimentary tape player and speaker that could be activated by an elephant-shaped plastic key (called "Trunkey") like the one pictured at the top of the post.  (That's actually my Zoo Key from the 1960s!)  Each Zoo Key box played a little story about the display you were in front of --- a little bonus bit of information about the animals, such as what they ate.

    The Zoo Key experience was fun in and of itself but like the Gulliver's Gate key experience, it also caused you to pause and consider a little more carefully what was happening around you.

    I know these "keys" are a simple device, and yet I saved them, and they are souvenirs that help me remember in a positive way my experiences at both Gulliver's Gate and the Detroit Zoo of my childhood.

    What sorts of physical (or metaphorical) key experiences could you provide to create positive memories for your visitors?

    Don't miss out on any ExhibiTricks posts! It's easy to get updates via email or your favorite news reader. Just click the "Sign up for Free ExhibiTricks Blog Updates" link on the upper right side of the blog.

    P.S. If you receive ExhibiTricks via email (or Facebook or LinkedIn) you will need to click HERE to go to the main ExhibiTricks page to make comments or view multimedia features (like videos!)